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Anatomy of African Bush-fallers

                   

DSC02193 2

 

By

Professor Peter Wuteh Vakunta

INTRODUCTION

 Who is a bush-faller? In Standard English, the term ‘bush-faller’ refers to a person who fells or cuts down trees in the bush for timber. In Cameroonian Pidgin English and Camfranglaish, this term harbors an entirely different connotation. Kouega (2007) defines ‘bush-faller’ as “someone who chooses to leave his country in search of a greener pasture elsewhere.”(91)He further defines ‘bush-falling’ as voluntary expatriation, which may be a case of brain-drain or labor force drain.”(91) In Cameroon, bush-fallers are associated with some acquired attributes: wealth, erudition, uppity mentality and most importantly cultural bastardy. This explains why they are often associated with concepts such as ‘de-identification’, ‘anonymization’ and ‘deculturation’. Oftentimes, the term ‘de-identification’ involves the removal of personally identifiable information in order to protect personal privacy. Other instances of de-identification involve the intentional obliteration of unique identifiers for individuals in a data set. In the health arena, de-identified information describes data that does not identify an individual, with respect to which there is no reasonable basis to believe that the information could be used to identify an individual (Hubbard, 2007). Anonymization, on the other hand, is a term that describes the act or process of making something anonymous, of hiding or disguising identity as a security precaution. Finally, deculturation is the term used to describe the process of divesting an ethnic group, tribe or people of their indigenous traits. More often than not, this term is employed to portray cultural loss or erosion.

In this paper, we attempt to explore the psycho-sociological ramifications of bush-falling pertaining to African immigrants in general. There is no gainsaying the fact that physical estrangement from one’s cradle is a painful experience. More often than not, Africans leave their places of birth to resettle in other climes for a myriad of reasons. We will never fully comprehend the motivations underlying physical exile until we ask immigrants why each one of them emigrated to where they now reside. This notwithstanding, one could surmise that Africans who emigrate from Africa to Europe and North America tend to do so for two fundamental reasons: to obtain higher education and to avail themselves of economic opportunities that are non-existent at home. In the United States of America, it has been branded “living the American Dream”. In theory, the American dream is sweet but there is a painful flipside. In the Western media, Africa is synonymous with grinding poverty, devastating starvation, cohabitation with wild animals, communicable diseases, internecine wars, undisguised corruption, misgovernment, rape of democracy, and human rights abuses.  As American blogger, Kayla observes, “When you ask a child, "What does Africa look like?" I bet you every single child will respond with something like "skinny kids" or "jungles" because that is what they see of Africa on television. They don't see the big cities and cars and regular families like theirs” (Blog, 2010).Therefore,  it stands to reason that bush-fallers easily succumb to the temptation to turn their backs to their ‘dark’ continent in the pursuit of greener pastures in their dreamland, however illusory these pursuits may be.

Research indicates that a sizeable proportion of African immigrants living in the Diaspora find themselves in the throes of self-denial in their attempt to fit into the mainstream (Ngwa and Ngwa, 2006)—a phenomenon labeled the “diaspora dilemma” by Ozodi Thomas Osuji (2006). From the onset, most African immigrants experience physiological and psychological shock as the following statements made by an Ethiopian bush faller in Germany seem to suggest: “There are a lot of cultural differences that I have already observed: the way they dress; the way the people behave: smokers, small girls and boys kiss on the street, and so on; the way they treat people” (Ngwa and Ngwa, 2006: 94). Regardless of the nature of jobs they do, African immigrants soon learn that as far as white folks are concerned they are just immigrants, disposable people. Not many Africans are considered viable candidates for top-ranking jobs in the United States of America. The white man is very reluctant to allow an African with his heavy accent and other socio-cultural idiosyncrasies to rise to the top. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. There are, indeed, some well-placed Africans in North America. This notwithstanding, the irrefutable truth is that African immigrants are often targeted for acts of institutionalized racism and discrimination.

Whether they are citizens, refugees, asylum seekers or permanent residents, people of African origin often stand out among the principal targets of racism and xenophobia in many parts of Europe and North America. In Western Europe, citizens of African origin face ongoing discrimination and violence. In parts of Eastern Europe, immigrants of African origin are highly visible and often vulnerable targets of brutal racism and unfair discrimination. Racist and xenophobic prejudices indiscriminately victimize people regardless of their official citizenship or residency status. Human rights watchdog, Human Rights First notes that discrimination and racist violence against immigrant foreign nationals is generally both under-reported and under-recorded (2008).  It further states that in the United States, although the largest number of reported hate crimes continues to be committed against African-Americans, a dramatic rise in anti-immigrant violence accompanied a new mainstreaming of anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears [51]. The rising violence is reflected in media reporting and in the statistical data obtainable from annual national hate crime statistics.

Xenophobia accentuated by racist sentiments is so problematic that some creative writers have attempted to fictionalize it as seen in the following excerpt from Benjamin Kwakye’s latest novel, The Other Crucifix(2010): “The official stared at me and asked matter-of factly, ‘Where are you going, nigger?’” (7) The protagonist’s head-on collision with savage racism and the contradictions inherent in black and white polarity in America is portrayed as psychopathology. Kwakye’s novel is an illustration of the American Dream paradox—an openness belied by obscurantist make-believe.

The question that begs to be asked now is how bush-fallers react to provocative acts of marginalization and denigration in the Diaspora. All too often, African immigrants in the West suffer from mild psychological disorders because of the countless frustrations they face as they go about their daily business.  Pent-up emotions resulting from inability to obtain what is desired (cars, homes, jobs, money, you name it) have driven some immigrants into throwing tantrums at the slightest provocation; they rave and rant.  Quite a few resort to homicide as exemplified in this excerpt culled from a blog indicates:

Another middle class Nigerian American professional has once again killed his wife in cold blood. I say once again because it is apparently becoming the pastime of some faceless Nigerian men in the United States to latch unto every imaginable unreason to do their own wives unto death. A Nigerian American man in Texas woke up one day, decided to tie his wife with a long cattle rope to the back of their family car, and engaged an entire city’s police department in a street-by-street drag race. By the time, he was through all the roads and their stupefied spectatorship were left to bear witness to the battered body of a lifeless woman who was once a daughter, mother, sister, friend, and neighbor. Another man elsewhere tracked and trailed his wife on a rather bright day, ran her car off the expressway into a roadside valley and slugged her at the wheel directly with a pistol that was specially marked for the hunt. Yet another man in a different state stalked his wife all the way into their family bedroom where he trapped her, following an alleged long distance telephone conversation with her lover in Europe, and proceeded to rain machete blows of unforgettable bodywork – in the very lame tradition of failed artists – all over her face and arms. Until today, the survivor woman of that implosion carries her stump and sutures like throwback testimonials from the blood oil and diamond genocides of Biafra, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (Obiwu, 2010).

Others sink into profound taciturnity symptomatic of brewing storms. Occasionally, anger could be misplaced. This happens when the individual expresses anger at a person that is not responsible for his or her predicament. Some bush-fallers are known to vent their anger on spouses and children as seen in the passage above, thus making themselves liable to legal sanctions.

At this point, I would like to shift gears and discuss some less perceptible ways in which African immigrants react to discrimination and denigration in the diaspora. I will proceed by way of a medical analogy: getting rid of an abscess. An abscess refers to a tender mass of debris and pus that looks pink or deep red, and is easily pressed. Abscesses commonly grow around your armpits, anus, vagina, and bass of spinal column, tooth or groin. An abscess is caused by a blockage in the sebaceous glands or sweat glands, minor punctures of the skin, little breaks and inflammation of hair follicles. An inflammation arises once your body tries to fight the germs that penetrate into the glands. If you open an abscess, you will find bacteria, dead cells and other debris in it. Your abscess will start bothering you as it grows bigger every day. It will completely catch your attention, as the presence of tension under your skin can no longer be ignored. To get rid of an abscess, you have to go through inspection to determine if the cause of your abscess is a foreign object that needs to be removed. If the cause is not a foreign object, then your doctor will have to drain the abscess through incision.

I have used the symbolism of a malignant body portrayed as an abscess as an appropriate description of the malaise in which most African immigrants live in the United States of America and Europe. In an attempt to drain off their Afritude (quality of being African), bush-fallers have resorted to various gimmicks. Undeniably, the bush-faller’s abscess is his Africanness—the blackness that constitutes the cause of his very undoing in his Dreamland. Caught in the throes of psycho-pathological warfare bush-fallers often resort to self-repudiation as a stratagem to survive. The following succinct analysis should disambiguate the point raised above.

INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES

A great majority of Africans living in the Diaspora feel ashamed to speak their mother tongues. Consequently, they willfully trade off their indigenous languages for foreign tongues. To them, the language of the white man is the language of power; it is the language of science; the language of prestige and accomplishment. As far as these de-Africanized bush-fallers are concerned, African vernacular languages belong in the remote villages they have left behind. Children begotten in the Diaspora are admonished against speaking the vernacular languages of their parents, namely   Ngie Meukoh keh, Swazili, Igbo, Mungaka, Zulu, Medumba, Beti, Vengo, Nsei, and so on. If these kids desire to learn any of these African languages in order to meet college requirements, they will have to learn it at school, preferably from an American professor who learnt the language during one of his safari tours to Africa. This writer knows of a Kenyan couple living in America, both professors who speak Swazili fluently but will not condescend to teach their college-bound daughter their native language. The kid has to learn it in college from a White Swahili professor, because American Swahili is just a little superior to African Swahili, you know. I am acquainted with an Egyptian professor who teaches Arabic at my institution who will not teach her daughter Arabic at home. The poor kid is now taking Arabic classes taught by an American instructor at a community college. As you can see, African Arabic is no match with American Arabic. I see you shaking your head and asking yourself what is wrong with Africans?

FOOD AND NUTRITUTION

Our delicious African dishes—ero, ogwono, egusi, koki, ekwang, moin-moin, crayfish, dodo, puff-puff,  njama-njama, water–fufu, garri, and more have become anathema in the homes of some benighted bush-fallers in America and Europe, especially those who have gotten Western spouses. Henceforth, the African food they once ate with relish, no longer have space on their   westernized dining tables because, as you have rightly guessed, these dishes remind them of their ‘shithole’ countries to quite an erstwhile American President. Our white friends and spouses will shame us for eating stuff reserved for monkeys. I remember bringing some ero and water-fufu from home years ago for my friend who lives in Chicago. His parents had insisted that I take the precious parcel to their son who had not been home for twelve years. In the words of his mother, “let him eat this food and hear my smell in it.” This is a powerful statement in African cultures, especially if the food is coming from one’s biological parents. To my dismay, when I arrived at my friend’s home with the food items properly packaged, he shouted at the top of his voice: “Eh, eh! Massa, you wan kill me?  Ma sara nyango go divorce me if dis ting enter dis house. Massa, I don’t eat this stuff anymore. If ma titi put eye dei, yi go broke marred now now.”[Oh, oh! My friend, are you trying to kill me? My Caucasian wife will divorce me right away if this food gets into our house. I don’t eat this stuff anymore. If my wife sees it she will divorce me right away]. So much for cross-racial marriages!

CLOTHING AND ADORNMENT

Similarly, our traditional outfits—boubou, gandura, agwada, ndikong, dansiki, kabba ngondo, and more have become a painful source of embarrassment for us. The beautifully embroidered outfits we brought from Africa are gathering dust in our closets and boxes. If we wear them, we will be identified as primitive Africans. Heck! That does not bode well for our upward mobility in the white man’s world, you know. The cool thing to do is dress up in American blue jeans and collarless T-shirts 24/7. While in Rome do as the Romans do. Did you hear that?

ONOMASTICS

What is in a name? Did you hear that? There is everything in a name! This explains why the naming ceremony is not a mindless event in Africa.  We do not simply give names to our children. The names we give our kids are pregnant with meaning. In my village Bamunka, for example, names are communicative labels. For example, ‘Machishi’ means paragon of beauty; ‘Keyenyeng’ means ‘Wait and see’; ‘Wuteh’ translates the concept of being a ‘solitary person’, and ‘Nyibanda’ translated the notion of God’s unconditional love for all His creation. Sadly enough, some of us tend to substitute Western names for our African names. For instance, Mohammed Fofana becomes Jim Moore; Ngoran Fondufe metamorphoses into Jem Sparks; Leonie Kandem has been transformed into Kassandra Robertson; Mbionyi Tata now goes by David Jackson and so forth. These acts of disfigurement and self-denial perpetrated by bush-fallers are not fortuitous. They are calculated tricks to rid themselves of their African identity because these names constitute their most cumbersome source of embarrassment. The compulsive desire to deny oneself is part of the whitewashing scheme that Frantz Fanon denounces in his seminal work Black Skin, White Masks (1967).

CULTURAL ILLITERACY

In bygone times, Africans regarded cultural literacy as a life skill.  For instance, the beating of the traditional drum and other musical instruments was a skill passed down from generation to generation. As Burkinabe fiction writer, Nazi Boni, points out in his novel Crépuscule des temps anciens (1962):

Tout jeune homme devait savoir manier avec aisance plusieurs instruments de musique, particulièrement le tian-houn, le kondio, le kokoni, le win’za et toutes les variétés de konkoans ou trompettes. Le tiohoun communément appelé balafon, le donk
oho, minuscule tambourin de guerre à la taille de guêpe, le kere’nko, gigantesque donkolo, le kankan, tambour ventru, le ziri’nko, énorme kankan funéraire, constituaient—et constituent encore…des instruments réservés aux chanteurs et compositeurs traditionnels: les kakawa.(30-31)

[Every young man was expected to know how to play several musical instruments with expertise, especially the tian-houn, kondio, kokoni, win’za and all the varieties of the  konkoans or trompets. The tiohoun commonly called  balafon, donkoho, small war tambourin the size of a wasp, the kere’nko, gigantic donkolo, the kankan, hollow drum, ziri’nko, big funeral kankan constituted—and still constitute…instruments reserved for use by traditional composers and singers: the kakawa. ]

Nowadays, this cultural activity isregarded as decadent culture.Other aspects of our indigenous cultures have been subjected to the same torture. Kids no longer stand up to cede their seats to elders. They prefer to sit down while the older folks stand.  Wife no longer stoop to serve their husband. With the dollar, euro or pound in the wallet, spousal respect flies out the window! We no longer eat fufu, ero and njama- njama with our fingers. No! We insist on using forks! Being able to handle silverware correctly at table is a marker of evolution, you know. Never mind these primitive Chinese and Japanese who serve chop-sticks in their restaurants!

CONCLUSION

In sum, African bush-fallers are at a befuddled crossroads. Straddled between indigenous and Hellenistic cultures; confused by the allure of western materialism and African communalism and beset by multifarious messaging, the African living in the diaspora has metamorphosed into the status of a cultural bastard. Quite often, this de-identification results in anonymization, the highest stage of self-denial. African bush-fallers are not unique in this experience. Other minority groups in North America and Europe—Asians, Latinos, and more have, to a lesser extent, been subjected to similar psycho-sociological traumas. This is explicable by the fact when dominant and minority cultures co-exist, conflict arises. I have the conviction that the onus rests upon immigrants to look for less disfiguring ways and means to fight back acts of discrimination and denigration aimed at cowing them into subservience. They cannot afford to let their cultures sink into oblivion in order to please their hosts.

 

Works cited

Boni, Nazi.  Crépuscule des temps anciens. Paris: Présence

     Africaine, 1962.

Fanon, Frantz. Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris: Editions du

     Seuil, 1952.

___________ . Black Skin, White Masks.Trans. Charles Lam

     Markmann, New York: Grove press, 1967

Hubbard, Michael. “De-identification Data: What Every Privacy

     Professional Needs to Know.” NCHICA. 13th Annual Conference

     and Exhibition, September 23-26, 2007.

Human Rights First. “Victims of Violence Based on Racism and

     Xenophobia.” Retrieved December 12, 2010 from      http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/our-work/fighting-

Discrimination/2008-hate-crime-survey/racism-and-xenophobia/iii-

Kouega, Jean-Paul. A Dictionary of Cameroon English Usage. New

     York: Peter Lang, 2007.

Kwakye, Benjamin. The Other Crucifix. Oxfordshire.  Ayebia

     Clarke Publishing limited, 2010.

Kayla P. “How is Africa Portrayed in the Western Media?”

     Retrieved December 11, 2010

from http://www.peacejam.org/projects/How-Africa-is-Portrayed-     in-Western-Media-300.aspx

Ngwa, Wilfred and Lydia Ngwa.From Dust to Snow: Bush-Faller.

     Princeton: Horeb Publications, 2006.

Obiwu. “Nigerian American Body Snatchers.” Retrieved July 19,

2010 from http://www.saharareporters.com/article/nigerian-american-body-snatchers

Osuji, Ozodi T. “African Immigrants in America.” Retrieved June

5, 2010 fromhttp://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/ozodi-thomas-osuji/african-immigrants-in-america.html

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Professor Peter Wuteh Vakunta teaches at the United States Department of Defense Language Institute, currently on detachment to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Dr. Vakunta is author of numerous  books and articles in peer-reviewed journals: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=vakunta&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss_1


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